Shri Rao still chuckles when he recalls the inauspicious beginning to his career.
After earning his Masters degree in civil engineering from Auburn University, Rao accepted a job at a software engineering firm. He quit before the end of his first day.
"I just knew it wasn't for me," he said. He called another firm that had offered him a position in their geotechnical testing division - a job he had previously declined.
"They told me if I showed up the next morning, the job was mine," he said.
The rest is history.
Rao moved to Orlando in 1994 to work for Universal Engineering Services, and after a decade had worked his way up from the "bottom of the totem pole" to vice president and chief engineer.
Over his 21-year career in Orlando, Rao has been was involved in more than 5,000 commercial and residential projects, including Mall of Millenia, Eagle Creek and ChampionsGate. Then, in 2006, he walked away to start his own firm.
"I had 14 engineers working for me, but we were top heavy," he said. "We knew the market was about to crash."
He founded LandSmart Consultants, which is based in Winter Garden and offers civil engineering, geotechnical studies, site planning and design and preparation of construction documents. "When you work for large company, you have all these resources," he said. "When you start your own firm, you quickly learn you have to lick your own stamps."
It was 2007, just as the economy tanked. "The timing couldn't have been worse, but I don't regret it," Rao said.
To make ends meet, he got his real estate license, and worked with his wife, Julie, also a broker. After three years of struggle, LandSmart turned the corner. Rao now has a large client list and has partnered with Park Square Homes CEO Suresh Gupta to form SunPark Company, a real estate development company that has various projects in permitting in Polk, Osceola and Orange counties.
Shri and Julie Rao live in Winter Park with their two children, who attend the Orlando Science Charter School.